Ralph Salisbury

Writer, Professor

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So Far, So Good (Memoir)
Winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Book Prize Salisbury takes us from abject poverty in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, with a half Cherokee-Shawnee father and an Irish American mother, through war and peace and protest to the freedom and solace of university life.

"An important glimpse into 20th-century Midwestern life, this book will also be an important addition to the canon of Native American literature."—Library Journal

“Ralph Salisbury’s So Far, So Good will take its place beside Scott Momaday’s The Names and Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave as a major addition to the evergrowing genre of contemporary Native American autobiography.”—Geary Hobson, author of Plain of Jars and Other Stories

“A Native American, a Vanishing American, Ralph Salisbury writes of a
vanishing life, but in this brave and startling memoir, it is the life of a poetwarrior
that will never be forgotten.”—Patty Dann, author of Mermaids
“A Native American, a Vanishing American, Ralph Salisbury writes of a
vanishing life, but in this brave and startling memoir, it is the life of a poetwarrior
that will never be forgotten.”—Patty Dann, author of Mermaids

Like the Sun in Storm
The manifest destiny of these poems is justice and salvation in language for people torn down by blind nationalism, war, greed and racism. As soft as lingerie, as tough as steel pipe, and as fine in phrase and image as our best American poets, Ralph Salisbury sings "Like the Sun in Storm" for a world that can be healed. --Henry Hughes, Winner: 2012 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award, author of Moist Meridian and Men Holding Eggs (Oregon Book Award in poetry)

Ralph Salisbury’s Like the Sun in Storm is a great eagle-soaring sweep of poetry. In these times of wars and suffering, his poems give powerful voice to that which too many people ignore or are afraid to speak about or are too brainwashed to recognize. Like the Sun in Storm is beautiful, brilliant, true ... an assuaging of a deep homesickness for that which shimmers with honesty and heart wisdom. This Cherokee-Shawnee elder’s poems brilliantly distill home and shelter out of the violent complexity of America’s and the entire planet’s current frightening reality/​surreality. Ralph, beloved poet and brother, thank you/​nya’weh for this saving poetry. -- Susan Deer Cloud, Poet, NEA & NYFA fellowships recipient, author of Car Stealer and The Last Ceremony

Light From a Bullet Hole: Poems New and Selected

"The poems of this volume make stunningly clear the ways in which Ralph Salisbury continues to model the traditional and modern (postmodern, if you will) roles of the poet as Cherokee humanist and indigenous cosmopolitan." -- Arnold Krupat

"Although Ralph Salisbury may refer to himself as "A Killer Seeking Forgiveness," this collection of his new and selected work shows him to be one of the most thoughtful and moral writers of his generation. Without ever sacrificing literary excellence for self-righteousness or eloquence for polemic, Salisbury's memorable poetry reflects not only his long full life and the Cherokee culture that has helped shape his vision, it is also a corrective lens through which we may view anew the story of our American nation."
-- Joseph Bruchac

Blind Pumper at the Well

"Ralph Salisbury has established himself over a long and productive career as a voice of sanity in a world riven by war, racism, and despair. His poems teach us, among other important lessons, the constant need for compassion. We are grateful for his new poems in Blind Pumper at the Well."
-- John Witte

"Ralph Salisbury’s Blind Pumper at the Well bears witness to human suffering and to the horrors of war. The poems are generous and kind. Salisbury celebrates the beauty inherent in family, the mysteries of loss, the sadness of the human condition, and through scrupulous reflection, arrives whole, wise, and in the moment. Blind Pumper at the Well is a gift.
-- Rodger Moody

"Ralph Salisbury’s poems in this latest volume are witness to his genius for words, witness to his reverence for language, and they show his deep and abiding concern for the human loss in wars and the rumors of war. As an artist, Salisbury is at his best here: time and time again the force of his words is framed in sturdy periodical sentences that hit you smack between the eyes with their crescendoing, image-packed truth."
-- Jim Barnes



The Indian Who Bombed Berlin and Other Stories
"Salisbury's stories are engaging and unique. He has a distinctive approach to assembling the elements of a narrative. The 'facts' might be revealed directly, but they are more likely to emerge in small fragments of illumination, like pieces of a dream.

"Salisbury taps primal emotions -- love, passion, anger -- but he explores his subjects in unusual ways, like drillers who bore at odd angles to discover pools of oil trapped deep in layers of rock. He excavates the hearts and minds of his characters, mining them to fuel his stories. And his stories are the richer for it -- invariably compelling and continually surprising." (Michigan State Univ. Press)

"Stories keep us alive. No matter what happens. No matter how one's life goes. No matter how good or bad or funny or absurd. ... Stories are life givers and lifesavers. The proof is in the telling. And in the hearing and reading. Believe me. Read Ralph Salisbury's The Indian Who Bombed Berlin and Other Stories. And you will know." -- Simon Ortiz

War in the Genes

War in the Genes is a fierce, sweeping collection that brings a deep awareness of Native American history and spirit to the difficult American present. Ralph Salisbury shies away from nothing in his poems -- not anger nor indictment, not love nor praise.

"Ralph Salisbury is a strong and gentle Cherokee poet -- a hunter, warrior, and scholar, who fought well in the Good War and fights well now in the Resistance, with laughter and compassion, with toughness and grace, with truth and beauty."
Carter Revard

"War in the Genes and Other Poems is a poetic summons to historical metaphors of native company. Ralph Salisbury creats an original sense of environmental time,'words of love, to raise the dead.' The Cherokee arise with the breath of autumn in a singular collection of poems."
Gerald Vizenor



Rainbows of Stone

Finalist, Oregon Book Award. "A Magnificent summa from a superb artist." --Louis Owens

"Nature in Ralph Salisbury's conception is a Presence to be addressed. I was drawn especially to such poems as 'Oil Spill Spreading,' 'Family Task, 4th Year,' and 'This Is My Death Dream.' This is a poet dedicated to keeping his heritage alive. His book deserves a broad audience." -- Maxine Kumin

"A collection of poems that interweaves family tales with personal and tribal history. Conjuring images that define his life - from the vanishing farming and hunting traditions with which he was raised to his experiences in World War II as a member of a bomber crew - he has produced a haunting, powerful work that expresses his devotion to the Cherokee religion and its harmony with the forces of Nature.
“By turns autobiographical and meditative, critical of hypocrisy and celebratory of spirit, Rainbows of Stone draws a bright arc across the last century.”
-Joseph Bruchac

The Last Rattlesnake Throw and Other Stories

Ralph Salisbury tells stories of violent conflict and the triumphant will to live, as experienced by Cherokees in contemporary America. The realities of war and its ongoing effects, racial injustice, crime, disharmony between the sexes, and a sense of rootlessness and alienation are balanced by a questing for love, a will to resist both inner and outer evil, and a determination to endure.

Going to the Water

“Ralph Salisbury carries his learning easily. He blends immediate, everyday concerns with large, distant and overarching issues and influences. He roves into more kinds of topics than most poets do, and he enlivens them more; partly, ... because he is able to be ... a responsive human being - while at the same time carrying a sense of the mysteries behind everyday things.”
-William Stafford

Selected Works

To order any of these books, please click on the titles below and, again, below the cover images. To read samples please click on the titles below and scroll down in the center column.
Literary Nonfiction
“Ralph Salisbury’s So Far, So Good will take its place beside Scott Momaday’s The Names and Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave as a major addition to the evergrowing genre of contemporary Native American autobiography.”—Geary Hobson
Poetry
The manifest destiny of these poems is justice and salvation in language for people torn down by blind nationalism, war, greed and racism. As soft as lingerie, as tough as steel pipe, and as fine in phrase and image as our best American poets, Ralph Salisbury sings "Like the Sun in Storm" for a world that can be healed. --Henry Hughes
"The poems of this volume make stunningly clear the ways in which Ralph Salisbury continues to model the traditional and modern (postmodern, if you will) roles of the poet as Cherokee humanist and indigenous cosmopolitan." -- Arnold Krupat
"It’s great to see the energy of an 80-year-old poet at work. Mixing WWII memories with his observations of the peaceful world outside his study windows, these poems celebrate longevity and unflagging concern for peace." -- Diane Wakoski
"Salisbury writes out of the passion, rage, and lyricism that mark the Native American spirit in these blasphemous times."
- Paula Gunn Allen
Finalist, Oregon Book Award. “A magnificent summa from a superb artist.”
-Louis Owens
“The words of Going to the Water: Poems of a Cherokee Heritage ‘do it right’. They hit hard. And they must be heard. Listen.”
-Simon Ortiz
Short Fiction
Salisbury excavates the hearts and minds of his characters, mining them to fuel his stories. And his stories are the richer for it — invariably compelling and continually surprising. (MSU Press)
“...unique in tone and voice, unlike the voice of any other American Indian writer writing today.”
-Gordon Henry